Sunday, May 3, 2020

To Be or Not to Be

According to our current Gregorian calendar, May 3, 2020 is the four hundred and fourth anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. He died on May 3, 1616, just as he was turning fifty-two years old.

I was born exactly four hundred years after Mr. Shakespeare. To the day. So we have a lot in common. For my entire bardolatrous English Major life, as each major milestone approached or passed, I would compare myself to the Bard at a similar age. Until four years ago, when I turned fifty-two years old. The next day was my very last chance to ask myself “What Was Shakespeare Doing At My Age On This Day Four Hundred Years Ago?"

What was I doing on May 3, 2016, exactly four hundred years after the death of William Shakespeare? I was reading my client copy of an email from my employment lawyer to the State’s employment lawyer.

After I finally recognized I was incapable of communicating with my employer about my recent mental illness diagnosis, in March 2016 I hired one of the partners in Freed Frank Subit & Thomas, a respected Seattle law firm that represents plaintiffs in employment disputes. I chose Sean Phelan because of her experience working with disabled employees dealing with mental health and reasonable accommodation issues. I engaged her for the specific purpose of communicating on my behalf with the employment lawyers representing the State about the relationship between my disability and the status of my employment. 

On March 29, 2016, my employers designated Senior Counsel Kari Hanson to negotiate with Ms. Phelan on behalf of the State.

What were the state’s top employment lawyers and Human Resources professionals doing on May 3, 2016? Figuring out how to do the right thing after receiving that same email from my employment lawyer is was busy reading at home in Bellingham.

A few weeks before I hired Ms. Phelan, I filed a separate sexual orientation discrimination complaint with my employer. After following the State’s government contract procurement process, the Attorney General’s office hired their preferred investigator to look into my sexual orientation discrimination allegations. 

Soon after hiring this investigator, however, one of the lawyers in the Attorney General’s Office decided it made sense to combine the investigation into my narrow sexual orientation discrimination complaint with a second assignment. He therefore asked the same lawyer-investigator to evaluate a secret litany of complaints from the supervisors who had already decided to get rid of me – even though the State's contractual Work Order only authorized an investigation into my allegations regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation, and even though no one bothered to tell me they’d changed the scope of the investigation to focus on the separate State’s complaints about my interactions with other in the workplace.

The State employee who made the original decision to secretly expand the scope of the investigation into my sexual orientation discrimination complaint was the State’s top employment lawyer, Ms. Hanson’s supervisor Labor & Personnel Division Chief Shane Esquibel. By tragicomic coincidence, that same month the Attorney General promoted Mr. Esquibel to be Chief Deputy Attorney General – Bob Ferguson’s No. 2.

Almost two months later, on May 3, 2016, Ms. Hanson received an email request from my lawyer that made it obvious Ms. Hanson had a festering malpractice problem:

From: Sean Phelan [] 
Sent: Tuesday, May 03, 2016 4:08 PM 
To: Hanson, Kari (ATG) Cc: Sean Phelan
Subject: Roger Leischman 

Hi Kari,
I am following up on the voice message I left for you yesterday regarding this matter. 
Mr. Leischman has recently been evaluated by a psychiatrist with regard to his medical condition and its impact on his ability to perform his job – and specifically its impact on his interactions with others in the workplace.
Could you please send me another accommodation assessment form to send to the psychiatrist to complete?
Thanks in advance. 
Please call with any questions. Sincerely, 
Ms. Sean M. Phelan
Frank Freed Subit & Thomas LLP

Surely by this point the State’s top employment lawyers realized that all those secret co-worker complaints about “interactions with others in the workplace” – including raising my voice after my supervisor accused me of faking my disability  could not be a legitimate basis for employer retaliation, particularly during the interactive “reasonable accommodation” negotiation process required by the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Americans with Disabilities Act. And surely by now the States senior Human Resources professionals realized that the Rules of Professional Conduct forbid any attorney-investigator hired by government lawyers from secretly interrogating someone who is represented by counsel. 

You’d think. Call me a cynic, but I wouldnt be surprised to eventually read a sworn statement addressed to some tribunal or another from every single lawyer in Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s OfficeNo doubt each lawyer will swear he or she personally had no idea that the disabled gay single dad isolated on “home assignment” had hired an employment attorney to represent him in connection with complaints about allegedly improper interactions with others in the workplace. No idea at all, not until after they’d heard that someone else had already fired me. 

Unfortunately for the State, however, this is one of those situations when more lies can’t helpAfter filing whistleblower requests under the Public Records Act, last year I finally obtained copies of the damning emails the State concealed from my attorney and me. Even the truth-impaired folks at the Washington Attorney General’s Office must admit that by they time they saw Ms. Phelan
s May 3 email to Ms. Hanson, the State’s lawyers were on notice that they should have been paying attention to my disability – and to my disability attorney.

What did the State’s employment lawyer Ms. Hanson do on May 3 after she received my attorney’s email? She forwarded a copy to two people

The first recipient was Rochelle LaRose, the Human Resources representative who was responsible for coordinating with me about the investigation into my sexual orientation discrimination complaint. The second recipient was one of the supervisors above Ms. Hanson in her chain of command – Deputy Attorney General Paige Dietrich. 

Even if Ms. Hanson completely misunderstood the purpose of my lawyer’s attempts to contact her for the last six weeksdon’t you think at least one of these other experienced public servants should have recognized there was a connection between my employment, my disability, inquiries from my disability lawyer, and the secret assignment the State had given to its investigator? 

After bringing Ms. LaRose and Ms. Dietrich into the loop, the next morning Ms. Hanson decided to tell a fib. Rather than finally respond to my lawyer’s inquiries about accommodating my disability, Ms. Hanson instead told her she’d been swamped with work, and that of one of the managers had been traveling. At Ms. Hanson’s request, she and Ms. Phelan agreed to meet the following week to discuss my case.

Later that day on May 4, Ms. Hanson forwarded a copy of her fibbing email exchange to Chief Deputy Attorney General Esquibel and several other senior managing attorneys at the Attorney General’s Office. Thus even more of the State’s lawyers had the opportunity to recognize Ms. Hanson’s and Mr. Esquibel’s mistakes, and to mitigate the harms they caused. But none of the lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office ever answered Ms. Phelan’s numerous letters, phone calls, and email messages. 

Instead, on May 5, 2020, Ms. LaRose  the same Human Resources representative who received a copy of my lawyers email on May 3  telephoned me at home. Ms. LaRose reported that the investigation into my sexual orientation discrimination complaint was complete, and told me to show up at the Attorney General's Seattle office the following Monday.

Despite receiving my attorney’s May 3 email directly spelling out the connection between my disability and my workplace behavior, under the Chief Deputy Attorney Generals compromised direction, the State went ahead and finalized the written report about its investigation. The investigation that was supposed to be limited to examining my complaint about discrimination based on sexual orientationThe investigation that instead focused on previously-undisclosed criticisms about my allegedly improper interactions with others in the workplace.

Then on Monday, May 9, 2016, relying on their illegal investigation report despite receiving my disability attorneys May 3 email, the State handed me a copy of the investigation report before knowingly and wrongfully terminating my employment. Since then, the States lawyers have engaged an illegal and unethical cover-up for the purpose of protecting each other and their boss.

Four years later, where are all the players?

·       William Shakespeare is still dead.

·        I’m still a disabled unemployed gay single dad. But I’m beginning to feel Better-ish, all things considered.

·        Senior Counsel Kari Hanson’s distinguished sixteen-year career with the Washington Attorney General’s Office ended expectedly in August 2016 – three years after the legal and ethical mistakes that destroyed my health and career. According to the internet, Ms. Hanson has started her own solo law firm. That’s a typical if unusually delayed outcome for lawyers who get caught making career-ending mistakes. 

·        Shane Esquibel is still employed by the State, where he continues to be shielded from accountability at illegal taxpayer expense. 

·        Bob Ferguson is running for a third term as the Attorney General of Washington.

Regardless of the size of the mistake, some men are simply too big to fit under a bus.

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